Health policy is a macro level field, while even the name of the Community-AID Lab implies micro, community level work. But when I learned about the lab’s work on the implementation of integrated student supports (ISS), I was immediately drawn to the lab, based on its connection with public health and public policy. ISS programs are wraparound supports, like physical and mental health services or family resource centers, that are implemented in schools through partnerships with community-based organizations. The lab assists organizations, like the Flint Community Schools, with the evaluation and implementation of ISS programs.
ISS programs are implemented at the community level because they serve the unique needs of each community. As such, they must also choose strategic community partners based off each community’s needs. This is far from a policy intervention that occurs at a state or federal level, but these community-level interventions often need funding from the state and federal level. For example, schools can implement targeted or comprehensive interventions, like Community Schools, through federal funds from the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) if the interventions are evidence-based. The Community-AID Lab, through data collection and evaluation, plays a key role in building the evidence base for effective ISS programs with their community partners.
Public policy often begins and ends at the community-level. Without evidence that programs are effective, policymakers shouldn’t invest in programs like Community Schools or other integrated student supports. Effective health policy might not mean a massive piece of legislation like the Affordable Care Act, but it could be something as simple as funding community health centers within schools. The work that begins in the Community-AID Lab and with their partners ensures that these programs are piloted and supported by evidence. The micro level work of the lab seems far removed from macro level policies at first glance, but practices implemented at the community level are reliant on macro level policies and vice versa.